Walker's Bookshelf

International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, here is a list of debut novels written by diverse female authors.

March 8th is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, here is a list of debut novels written by diverse female authors.
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Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham

Abraham’s fierce debut follows four Nigerian siblings living in Lagos from childhood in 1996 through early adulthood in 2015. Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike, and their younger brothers, Andrew and Peter, spend their early years in a relatively stable middle-class family. Then their mother loses her government job and their father wastes the rest of the family’s savings in a get-rich-quick scheme. Soon after, their mother leaves for New York, their father takes off for parts unknown, and the kids are left in the care of their grandmother. As the girls grow up, Ariyike becomes involved in a Pentecostal church and eventually marries its charismatic leader, while Bibike takes a series of more secular jobs. Both are sexually exploited time after time. The chapters involving their brothers focus on the horrors of life in a boarding school—incessant bullying by the older students, food deprivation—which the sisters can’t attend because they must work to support the family. The novel’s strength lies in its lush, unflinching scenes, as when a seemingly simple infection leads gradually but inexorably to a life-threatening condition, revealing the dynamics of the family and community along the way. Abraham mightily captures a sense of the stresses of daily life in a family, city, and culture that always seems on the edge of self-destruction. (Feb.) –Staff (Reviewed 11/11/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 45, p)

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Anappara’s witty, resonant debut tracks a series of child disappearances from an Indian slum through the  eyes of a nine-year-old boy. Jai lives with his friends Pari and Faiz in a slum next to a rubbish dump and the  crowded Bhoot Bazaar, part of an unnamed city constantly beset by smog. An opening tale of a local benevolent ghost named Mental introduces the  children’s shared magical thinking. When Jai and his friends learn that one of their classmates, Bahadur, has been missing for several days, Jai, a fan of police shows, decides that he and his friends will do their own detective work and find Bahadur since the  police show little interest in the  matter. Jai’s carefree nature lends a lighthearted tone to an increasingly grim tale as more children disappear and his team of sleuths find evidence pointing to a serial killer. His quest is aided by Pari’s voracious reading habits, which make her the  better detective, and Faiz’s Muslim faith, which helps them stay on  course when his community is blamed for the  kidnappings. Interspersed with the  trio’s investigation are single chapters devoted to each of the  disappeared children. The  prose perfectly captures all the  characters’ youthful voices, complete with some Hindi and Urdu terms, whose meanings, if not immediately obvious, become clear with repetition. Anappara’s complex and moving tale showcases a strong talent. (Feb.) –Staff (Reviewed 12/09/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 50 , p)

The Eight Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
*COMING SOON: March 17, 2020

Meet Alexa Wú, a brilliant yet darkly self-aware young woman whose chaotic life is manipulated and controlled by a series of alternate personalities. Only three people know about their existence: her shrink Daniel; her stepmother Anna; and her enigmatic best friend Ella. The perfect trio of trust.

When Ella gets a job at a high-end gentleman’s club, she catches the attention of its shark-like owner and is gradually drawn into his inner circle. As Alexa’s world becomes intimately entangled with Ella’s, she soon finds herself the unwitting keeper of a nightmarish secret. With no one to turn to and lives at stake, she follows Ella into London’s cruel underbelly on a daring rescue mission. Threatened and vulnerable, Alexa will discover whether her multiple personalities are her greatest asset, or her most dangerous obstacle.

Electrifying and breathlessly compulsive, The Eighth Girl is an omnivorous examination of life with mental illness and the acute trauma of life in a misogynist world. With bingeable prose and a clinician’s expertise, Chung’s psychological debut deftly navigates the swirling confluence of identity, innocence, and the impossible fracturing weights that young women are forced to carry, causing us to question: Does the truth lead to self-discovery, or self-destruction? — Publisher’s Description

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Daré’s captivating first novel opens with  14-year-old Adunni hearing the  devastating news from her father that, instead of returning to school as she has longed to for three years, she has been sold in marriage to a much-older neighbor in their Nigerian village. Adunni is distraught, as life with  a husband, his two other wives, and his unrestrained young children is exactly the  fate from which, according to her deceased mother, having an education would spare her. Desperate to improve her life, she flees to the  city, where to support herself she accepts employment as a rich family’s servant. But why was the  position vacant? The  reasoning behind her predecessor’s departure is just one of the  things Adunni seeks to learn while in Lagos. Daré’s arresting prose provides a window into the  lives of Nigerians of all socioeconomic levels and shows readers the  beauty and humor that may be found even in the  midst of harrowing experiences. Although the  problems and antagonists Adunni faces would challenge even capable adults, she defies almost everyone’s expectations and not only survives but thrives. — Nicole Williams (Reviewed 1/1/2020) (Booklist, vol 116, number 9, p35)

The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen

Nguyen’s lyrical, sweeping debut novel (after the  poetry collection The  Secret of Hoa Sen) chronicles the  Tran family through a century of war and renewal. As middle-aged writer Huong revisits her native Hanoi in 2012, she reflects on the  lessons shared by her late grandmother Diệu Lan (“The  challenges faced by Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the  tallest mountains . If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks”) and chronicles their journey of survival during the  Vietnam War. Huong was 12 when bombs encroached on Hanoi, where she lived with Diệu Lan after her mother, Ngọc, a physician, left to search for her father, a soldier in the  NVA. After an evacuation to the mountains , Diệu Lan “opened the  door of her childhood” to Huoung with stories of being raised by a wealthy family to pursue an education and resist old customs such as blackening her teeth. Diệu Lan also describes the  harrowing truth of the  Việt Minh Land Reform, during which her family’s land was seized in the  spirit of resource distribution, encouraging her to question what she’s been taught in schools. Grandma and Huong return to Hanoi and find their house decimated, and Ngọc, who survived torture and rape while imprisoned by South Vietnamese soldiers, comes home without Huong’s father. In a subtle coda, Nguyễn brilliantly explores the  boundary between what a writer shares with the  world and what remains between family. This brilliant, unsparing love letter to Vietnam will move readers. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 01/06/2020) (Publishers Weekly, vol 267, issue 1, p)